TOKYO-- As denuclearization talks with the United States remain stalled, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin's invitation for a summit later this month.
The summit announcement was made on April 18 during U.S. special envoy Stephen Biegun's visit to Moscow as part of a European tour to seek help in dealing with North Korea.
"Engagement in North Korean affairs was the top priority for the Kremlin, which wants to show that Russia is a superpower standing shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. and China," a source close to the Russian government says.
Putin has been pursuing talks with Kim since 2017, when North Korea was conducting nuclear and missile tests. He aimed to play the role of mediator, using his position to get closer to the U.S., with which relations had soured over Ukraine and other issues.
But Kim met U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018 and made several visits to China before and after the summit, largely ignoring Russia and Japan.
Now, after rejecting the hard-line U.S. demand for complete denuclearization, North Korea has turned to Russia. Putin is likely to show his support for phased denuclearization and easing of international sanctions when the two meet, says a source close to the Russian government.
The summit is Kim's way of demonstrating his resistance to U.S. pressure.
China seems to favor the first-ever meeting between the two leaders. Aside from the current trade war, which has hit Chinese tech companies hard, Beijing fears the widening rift with Washington could prompt the U.S. to beef up its military presence in Asia. Chinese President Xi Jinping may see that Russian involvement in the talks will benefit his country.
Russia is not as close economically to North Korea as China, limiting Moscow's influence on Pyongyang. Moreover, after North Korea's September 2017 nuclear test, Russia reluctantly sided with China and voted for a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing additional sanctions. "The vote led to North Korea's distrust in Russia," said a senior Moscow official at the time.
Putin always plays the all-powerful in diplomatic negotiations and is notorious for showing up late for meetings with other leaders. But Kim has upstaged him by having the president wait for years.
Whether Putin keeps Kim waiting when they meet remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: With the U.S. pitted against both China and Russia, talks on denuclearization going forward will become more complicated.